Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) organised the Round Table “Water as a public good” on 1st of December together with us. The activity is part of the project “Water and Sanitation Safety Planning (WSSP) in the Balkan Region: Romania, Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia,” funded by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMU). The objective of the Round Table was to raise awareness of the interconnections between relevant North Macedonian institutions and local officials dealing with the current management of drinking water and sanitation facilities/services and to develop strategic partnership of actors to address the environmental, water and sanitation challenges in the country and the Balkan region.
At the end of the Round Table, the following recommendations were jointly agreed upon:
- Stronger cooperation between state and local authorities responsible for providing safe drinking water and sanitation services
- Access to information, institutional transparency, and information sharing are of essential public interest
- Due to the Covid 19 crisis, continuous training to maintain good sanitation and hygiene is needed
All presenters at the Round Table made several meaningful contributions to the discussion. In true roundtable style, have a look at the following statements by the participants:
After his warm welcoming words, Filip Spirovski (director of JHR) shared our common activities on nitrate testing in different water sources which will result in a map that shows nitrate pollution in the project regions.
Natasha Dokovska (JHR) explained how she started the work on water and pointed out the current activities on menstrual health, presenting the results of a research on menstrual poverty and pointing out the relevant work that needs to be done to improve access to safe public toilets, especially for women and girls. In particular, citizens affected by poverty and belonging to marginalized groups suffer from high prices for water and, consequently, from reduced access to adequate water supply. It is therefore necessary to make water supply socially equitable.
Bistra Mihaylova (WECF) presented the project activities on WSSP and after a short discussion presented some good examples of urine diverting dry toilets, greywater filters and constructed wetlands for decentralised wastewater treatment in rural areas. She also pointed out that there is very little investment in water conservation worldwide – which was an important issue at COP 26 in Glasgow.
Our Serbian WSSP project partner, Aleksandra Mladenovic (Environmental Ambassadors for Sustainable Development, EASD), shared activities the organisation is implementing on sustainable production and consumption, nature and biodiversity as well as waste and chemicals next to our WSSP activities.
One of our Albanian WSSP project partners who attended the event online, Bujana Xhindoli (Milieukontakt, MA), reported on WSSP trainings in Albanian schools for teachers and pupils.
According to Kaja Shoukova, a State Secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning (MOEPP), the issue of menstrual health in particular should be brought further into the social spotlight so that it no longer becomes a taboo. In addition, greater cooperation between municipal authorities responsible for providing adequate drinking water and sanitation is strongly recommended.
Physicians Cansun Bukovec and Aleksandra Petrova at the Institute of Public Health (IPH), commented on several points. “The situation of Lake Prespa is critical,” Cansun Bukovec stressed. Furthermore, “improving access to public toilets is in the public interest, and the state should not worry too much about the investment required, because 1% invested in sanitation is equivalent to 5% of the budget saved by avoiding wastewater treatment.” Aleksandra Petrova mentioned that education about water and sanitation is of great importance. Especially for the youngest, it is recommended to have an expert in every school and kindergarten. Investments in safe and affordable toilets will be needed in schools and public places all over the country.
Toni Dimeski, Water Economy Inspector representing the State Environmental Inspectorate, pointed out that despite the institution’s limited authority in water management, the difference between the state and municipalities and the small number of inspectors are a problem. Some municipalities do not have usable permits for water systems and still supply water.
Director of the Agency for Protection of the Right to Free Access to Public Information, Plamenka Bojceva, said that access to information, transparency of institutions and sharing of information are of essential public interest. Citizens should be made aware of environmental protection. Especially, by educating the youth, we can influence social consciousness in the long run.
Shamil Rexhepi from the Energy and Water Services Regulatory Commission, shared that the experience gathered in the Regulatory Commission makes him support all activities which refer to proper access to water and sustainable sanitation facilities. An example from Belgium was given where 5% of the water bills go to marginalized groups and their access to water is secured – such examples show that with joint efforts lots of initiatives can be implemented as well in the Western Balkans.
Romeo Ivanovski from the Association of Public Utility Services Providers (ADKOM) pointed out that a major problem in public sanitation is waste from menstrual products. Thus there needs to be more education for proper handling of the products. Regarding social water supply, he gave an example of Kumanovo municipality, where funds from the municipal budget are allocated for vulnerable populations, since, he said, the regulatory authority is not responsible for subsidizing vulnerable populations. In his opinion, water and air are the most important sources of life, so instead of the many divided responsibilities and institutional burden, a Ministry of Life should be introduced.
The participants agreed on continuous meetings for successfully achieving the discussed and agreed activities and actions for improving the water and sanitation facilities in the country.